To be or Not to be? or When to be? – The parenthood dilemma

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A few weeks back, a very close friend of mine visited. We hadn’t met each other for the past two years. We started talking eagerly. She seemed to be quite content and happy. She just celebrated her second wedding anniversary. As my toddler daughter Tara walked around us, our conversation soon diverted into the topic of parenthood. The moment we started talking about it, I knew she was going through a similar situation that I once faced. Lately, she has been consistently encountering one question.  “When will you have a baby?” and she didn’t seem quite pleased with it.

 “Do you want to have a baby?” I asked her and she told me an honest answer. She definitely wants a baby sometime in future, but not immediately. However, she was finding the pressure from both the families a bit awkward.  Her mother is worried that it will be too late. She even told my friend to “give birth to a child and the rest I will take care”.  I laughed hard when I heard it. No, I wasn’t being insensitive to her dilemma. But, it was the same thing my mother told me a few years back.

“Salu, what shall I do? What is it like to become a parent?” my friend asked me.

I got married in 2012 December and I my daughter was born in 2017 September. My husband and I were busy with our careers. We went on a trip every 3 months. Honestly speaking, we were so busy that we never even felt the need to have another person in our life. We never had a check list. We didn’t live according to a timeline. However, after the second wedding anniversary, questions started popping up from different directions. My mother almost always took the lead.

“When will you have a baby?”, “Are you trying to have a baby?”, “You are almost thirty, don’t you realize that you cannot delay it too much?”, and my personal favorite, “If you don’t have a baby now, when will you have the second baby?”  Interestingly my husband never had to deal with such questions. It was assumed that as a woman, “the child” was a part of my responsibility.  I didn’t know how to answer them. I was scared to tell them that, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to become a parent or worse, if I ever want to become a parent. The questions become intensive after the third wedding anniversary. Not only our parents were concerned, but our relatives, my mom’s colleagues, our neighbors at hometown – anyone remotely related to us suddenly got interested in my barren life. Thankfully, I was so focused on my career, travel and writing, I never felt it was barren. Neither my husband did.

In January 2017, I found out that I was pregnant. I didn’t cry clutching the pregnancy test stick. Not that I didn’t try, but nothing came out. But my mother did. I told her that I was pregnant and she started sobbing at the other side of the phone. I asked me my mom to call me after she finished crying and I cut the phone.  It was rather rude, but I had my surging pregnancy hormones to blame. I was happy, but I was more of amused that I was carrying around another life within me.  From the moment I found that I was pregnant, there was not second that I didn’t think about my child.

The first thing I had to let go during my pregnancy was my Honda Activa. I used to love riding my scooter around Bangalore roads, occasionally taking a mild jump at the speed breakers. My gynecologist told it is fine to ride two-wheeler while pregnant. But, I was too scared to drive on Bangalore roads. I dreaded the pot holes and unmarked speed breakers. I decided not to ride until I have the baby. I am a careless person, who keeps bumping into things and trip and fall once in a while. Pregnancy made me extra cautious. I was scared that I might slip in the bathroom or trip on some loose wire. Before pregnancy, I used to move like a mountain goat but  I started walking like Cinderella in her luxuriant ball gown.

From childhood, apart from the occasional flu and cold, I had never been ill much. I never visited hospital. But after getting pregnant, Columbia Asia hospital in Whitefield became a routine destination. There were long queues to visit the gynecologist, there were multitude of tests (including the one for AIDS) there were scan appointments to remember. Suddenly my entire world started revolving around the pregnancy. While I enjoyed all the attention (and the food) I had started feeling like a different person. It felt like I am crystal ball that everyone wanted to handle with care. It bothered me.

Thankfully, those nine months went without much trouble. On 12th September 2017, my baby girl Tara was born. I was super proud of bringing her to this world without breaking her. I wanted to jump up and down in happiness that I made such a beautiful thing, but I was partially sedated and was on the operation table.  Anyway, I cannot explain the feeling when I first saw her face. I knew she was going to change my world forever, and guess what? She did!

She gave me a new perspective towards life. She helped me concentrate only on what is most important (because I didn’t have time for any other shit). If I put it poetically, she helped me listen to the music of life rather than worrying about the back ground noises. In the past one and half years she has made me laugh more than anyone ever had in my thirty years of life. Having a daughter keeps reminding me that I need to be a strong woman whom she can look up to and be proud of. Till my daughter was born, I thought that the hype about watching someone sleep was a romantic cliche. When I lie down next to her looking at her tiny nose flaring and her eyelids fluttering, I realize that it isn’t a cliche. She made me understand that I was capable of so much love.  However the biggest joy of being a parent is witnessing the miracle of life. Every day in the last eighteen months has been an adventure. I saw her crawl, sit up, blabber, walk, run and talk. However, the entire parenthood thing isn’t a bed of roses either. All the struggles I list below, if you ask me, they are all worth it. Only that they shouldn’t’ catch you by surprise. I am not saying every one might feel the same way. I might also add that I had a great deal of help from people who loves and cherish my baby. I dedicate this article to all of them.

While I was pregnant, I had read a lot about the biological aspects of childbirth. I wasn’t much aware about the emotional and sociological effects of having a child. I think it is hugely overlooked in India. While there are pregnancy prep classes, we mostly rely on the lame excuse that “A mother knows everything.”  And here is the news.  I wasn’t a mother till the minute my baby was born, and there is no maternal-fairy who bestows wisdom to the new mothers.  All I learned as mother, I learned it the hard way.

Struggles with breast feeding

I had a C-section and I guess my body didn’t realize that the guest had arrived. I didn’t lactate for almost three days. I still remember the pain I went through, looking at my baby crying, and my mother feeding her formula milk. I felt so helpless. I think the first point every mom-to-be should understand is – breast feeding isn’t easy for everyone. It may not come naturally as the baby product advertisements show.  It is OK, if you take a couple of days to lactate and start breast feeding. It is OK, even if you take a few more days to master it. The main point is that you need to keep trying. Even though you don’t seem to succeed for a few days, IT IS OK.  It is utmost important to breastfeed the baby at least for the first six months. So don’t give up on yourself and the baby even though breastfeeding seems to be a struggle. You will get there and you will become a pro. But I must also add that I know a few mothers who couldn’t breastfeed their babies. Truth to be told, the babies did have issues with immunity and such but they made it too. So, all am saying is, try hard but don’t be so hard on yourself.  Don’t start judging yourself from the first day; there are plenty more days to come.

SLEEP

I wrote it in caps, because it’s the single most important thing that I had to forego after becoming a parent. I think my baby came from USA, she was severely jet lagged during the first three months. She slept all day and was awake all night. I couldn’t think of missing any active hours with my daughter, so I stayed awake with her at night.  You might feel the pinch so hard, because there is no transition period. I slept blissfully for nine hours till the day before my delivery and the next day onward there was zero sleep. The lack of sleep might make you edgy. But you should be gentle, loving and caring around your baby. It was an incredibly hard thing to do. I had a lot of help from my mom and another incredibly sweet nanny. However, I was adamant that my baby need to see my face all the time. When I look back, I think it was a stupid thing to do. My advice to future parent is to use all the help you have. Keep schedules and sleep. Don’t be adamant that you need to be around the baby 24/7. Try to catch sleep, whenever and wherever possible. Both the father and the mother needs it.

Changing family dynamics

Before the baby, my husband and I lived in the house alone. We were two solitary souls who ordered pizza from Dominos and watched Narcos on Netflix. After the birth of my daughter Tara, there were always people at home to help me.  For a few months it was my mom, and then my in-laws came in. I had to hire a full time house keeper as well. Even though I owe all of them, it took some time for me and my husband to adjust to this new life style. With more people at home, there might be issues with lack of personal space, changes in food habits, minor conflicts and a lot of syncing up to do. However, for me it was a good thing. I can’t imagine those initial months without help.  If you ask me, I would advise you to get all the extra hands you could, at least the first year of the baby. They take away the burden of doing everything yourself (and help you from driving yourself nuts). However, you should be aware that some adjustments in life style are going to be necessary. Try to enjoy the company and try to keep everyone sane.

Companionship of your partner

Both my husband and I don’t have many friends. It so happened that we were close friends in college and we became best friends after marriage. We were each other’s company, we were partners in crime. I wrote those sentences in past tense, because it did change after our baby was born. Suddenly, all our attention was on this little bundle of joy. I wasn’t spending enough time with my husband. All our conversations revolved around the needs of the baby. In the initial few months I didn’t notice it much, but the distance was gradually building up of and it started bothering our relationship. We weren’t discussing the tidbits about our work or life. With the increase in the number of people at home, it wasn’t easy to find time exclusively for each other. Thankfully, we realized it soon enough. After my baby turned six months, we actively tried to find time for each other. We went for walks, small drives and sometimes an occasional ice cream. Initially I felt like cheating on my baby, but it was required. I started feeling myself again. The companionship was restored; even if it wasn’t exactly in the original shape.

Sex

I am an old fashioned woman who find talking about sex a taboo. But I cannot do justice to this article if I don’t talk about it. Like it or not, sex is going to become a rarity at least the first year after becoming a parent. There are several reasons – Biological, psychological and even logistical! Something that used to feel like a picnic starts feeling like climbing the Everest (without oxygen). Some might decide to wait and it’s fine if your partner feel the same. All I saw is, have a plan about it, be in sync with your partner, work it out so that it doesn’t affect the relationship.

Career

I put it at the last doesn’t mean that it is not important. Birth of a child clearly marks a milestone in every parent’s life – both personally and professionally. At least in India, mothers are considerably more affected than the fathers. Once the maternity leave gets over, every mother feels a kind of anxiety. In many cases women quit their job or take a break from work. Having to make this decision while you are already going through another big change in life is daunting. It is an important step to prepare for parenthood – have clarity on what you want after your baby is born. I am not elaborating this point, as I have written about in detail in another article. Even though there is a lot of discussion about women’s career challenges after becoming a parent, I think many people overlook the effect on the father’s career. With all the changes happening around, with the lack of sleep and changing home dynamics and relationship with the partner, I think at least some men finds it difficult give 100% percent to the job. I think India is incredibly insensitive in giving just a few days to maximum a week of paternity leave.

So, the old question comes back. How to decide if you are ready to become a parent? In my experience, there won’t be a moment of epiphany. But I can tell you a few wrong signs. If you decide to have a baby due to the pressure from the society – then don’t. Society wont breastfeed and lose sleep. Society won’t take care of your baby. If you decide to have a baby because you are afraid of your biological clock – then don’t. Aishwarya Rai  Bachchan had her baby when she was 38. She is still considered the epitome of womanhood in India! If you decide to have baby because you need a change in your life – then don’t. Go on a vacation, get hair cut, change the job- there are several way to bring a change in your life. If you rule out all the wrong signals and still you feel like you can take the huge responsibility  of nurturing a new life, then maybe you are ready.

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